The grottoes of the early period (460-65 CE) are composed of five main caves (16-20); these magnificent and simple caves were dug under the direction of the monk Tan Yao and are named after him. For the layout of the grottoes, large caves were dug to house the giant statues, 13-15m tall. They have a U-shaped plan and arched roofs, imitating the thatched sheds in ancient India. Each cave has a door and a window. The central images have tall bodies and occupy the major part of the caves, while on the outer walls a thousand Buddhist statues are carved, a feature rarely seen in the tradition of Chinese history of grotto carving. Buddhas of the past, present, and future, a thousand Buddhas standing together, are the dominating subject matter. The styles of the statuary reflect some of the characteristics of the Liangzhou Grottoes and the Gandhara and Mathura statues, demonstrating a strong foreign flavor, especially in clothing and jewellery. For the human forms, features of the ethnic groups (tall, robust, powerful) living in northern China at that time may have been imitated, thus creating a new model for Buddhist statuary.
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The Panchen Lama (often transliterated as Pänchen Lama) or the Panchen Erdeni, is the one of the two highest ranking lamas (together with the Dalai Lama) in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) sect of Tibetan Buddhism